Human Rights Watch (HRW), the New York-based non-profit, has for many years been relentlessly critical of Israel, often putting the state under a microscope applied to no other country or movement. While Human Rights Watch does condemn Palestinian suicide bombings and rocket attacks against Israel, it also repeatedly labels all Israeli attempts to prevent such attacks “war crimes” and “collective punishment,” thereby delegitimizing Israel’s sovereign right of self-defense.
And because a country that does not have the right to defend itself does not have the right – or the means – to exist, it is precisely Israel’s right to exist that Human Rights Watch is really attacking.
HRW condemns large-scale operations like the recent Israeli response to Hamas rocket fire from Gaza, it condemns pinpoint attacks against terrorists, it condemns checkpoints that successfully prevent infiltration of suicide bombers into Israel, and it condemns passive defense like the security fence which also helps to such prevent infiltration.
Human Rights Watch even condemns Israel for cutting back on the electricity and fuel that it supplies to Gaza, as if Israel is obligated to supply power to the Hamas government that runs the machine shops that build the missiles that are fired into Israel.
During the recent fighting in Gaza HRW falsely accused Israel of launching “indiscriminate attacks in violation of the laws of war,” and charged that “it has become clear that hundreds of Palestinian civilians were not the only casualties of the fighting. So was the credibility of the IDF [the Israeli army].”
Engaging in such disproportionate scrutiny and distorted criticism would seem to betray the organization’s principles of “rigorous, objective investigations” and “even-handedness and accuracy.”
Despite its high-minded promises, the hiring practices of Human Rights Watch virtually guarantee that it will demonize Israel. So many of the group’s senior staffers and researchers have such a documented history of extreme anti-Israel partisanship that it’s impossible to imagine them being evenhanded or accurate.
For example, the director of the Middle East section, Sarah Leah Whitson, previously worked for the NGOs Madre and the Center for Social and Economic Rights (CESR), which have used terms such as “apartheid” and “brutality” to refer to Israel. Lucy Mair, a former Middle East researcher, had been a regular writer for the fringe anti-Israel website Electronic Intifadah, and had also worked for CESR. And the recently-hired Nadia Barhoum was a campus anti-Israel activist at University of California, Berkeley, where she was a leading member of the extremist “Students for Justice in Palestine.” Barhoum had regularly termed Israel an “apartheid state” guilty of “mass atrocities.” (For more details on these HRW employees see the NGO Monitor report.)
Perhaps the most anti-Israel of HRW’s staffers, however, is Joe Stork, one of the longest serving employees in the Middle East section of Human Rights Watch, formerly as Advocacy Director, and now as Deputy Director under Sarah Leah Whitson. And it is the employment of Joe Stork which raises the most serious questions about the underlying agenda of Human Rights Watch.
Joe Stork’s anti-Israel partisanship was evident as early as 1970, when he was “part of an informal group of seven” who launched MERIP, the Middle East Research Information Project, a spinoff from the radical Institute for Policy Studies, where Stork was a “student.” According to Stork, MERIP was founded because existing leftist critiques of “US support for Israel were inadequate.” (MERIP: The First Decade, Peter Johnson and Joe Stork, MERIP Reports, October-December 1981)
In the same article, Stork charged that the “Zionist establishment” responded to criticism of Israel by attempting to distance “itself from the more odious stances of the Israeli government.”
And these were just a hint of Stork’s “odious stances” on Israel and the Middle East. Consider for example his statement in 1976 that:
… spontaneous random outbreaks of violence [by Palestinians against Jews] … make apparent the revolutionary potential of the Palestinian masses.
Speaking positively about violence, in this case by Arabs against Jews, should have disqualified Stork from ever working at any organization supposedly devoted to human rights and nonviolence.
Is this unfair to Joe Stork? Was his praise of violence just an isolated, uncharacteristic example? On the contrary, it is just the proverbial tip of the iceberg. The quotation is from an article by Stork based on his presentation at a conference on “Zionism and Racism” held in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in 1976. The conference celebrated the one year anniversary of what US Ambassador Daniel Patrick Moynihan rightly termed the “infamous” UN General Assembly Resolution 3379 equating Zionism with racism.
According to the editor of the conference volume, A. W. Kayyali:
Zionism, as the contributors to this volume point out, is a colonial movement based on racist, supremacist and distant religious notions …
… United Nations Resolution 3379 of 10 November 1975 … determined that Zionism is a form of racism and discrimination.
It was on the first anniversary of that momentous resolution that the University of Baghdad invited prominent thinkers and scholars from 46 countries to participate in a seminar on ‘Zionism and Racism’ to examine Zionism in theory and practice. (Zionism, Imperialism and Racism, A.W. Kayyali, editor, Croom Helm Ltd.,1979; Stork’s praise of violence quoted above can be found on page 216)
Even if one ignores the details of Stork’s speech, his very appearance at a conference sponsored by the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein should have disqualifie d him from working at Human Rights Watch, especially in any capacity relating to Israel. But there is much more about Stork’s world view that can be gleaned from this article, especially his vehement and repeated delegitimization of Israel.
For example, he refers to the “Zionist colonization of Palestine” (p 209), the “Zionist settler-colonial enterprise” (p 214), the “infamous Balfour declaration” (p 214), and the “Zionist theft of the property and productive resources” (p 218).
Referring to Israel’s victory in the 1967 War, Stork suggested what would be needed for the Arab states to reverse the outcome and destroy Israel:
There were, to be sure, many contributing factors to this devastating defeat, and it would be a mistake to overlook, for example, the degree of imperialist collusion that lay behind the Israeli blitzkrieg. But the single most important cause lay with the failure of the regimes in question to mobilize their societies for the kind of protracted struggle that is critical for the liberation of Palestine. … the surplus extracted from the masses was used to construct a military machine that was completely inadequate to the task of liberating Palestine … (p 225)
Since he is speaking of the 1967 war, which predated Israel’s presence in the West Bank and Gaza, it is clear that Stork means by the “liberation of Palestine” the destruction of Israel.
Stork even opposes peace talks and negotiation:
One thing that is clear from this survey, but which has been conveniently shelved by the Arab regimes today, is that the struggle against Zionism can only be won by struggling against imperialism, not by striking deals with future Kissingers. (p 232)
But the evidence of Stork’s abiding animus towards Israel, extending even towards Arab peace negotiations with Israel, is far deeper than just one speech, vile as it may have been.
For example, in a panel discussion organized by MERIP, held at the Institute for Policy Studies, reported in the PLO-founded Journal of Palestine Studies in 1972, and titled “How American Radicals See the Resistance Dilemma,” Stork opened the discussion by asking when:
… the situation in the Middle East … is going to emerge again as the world’s most critical struggle of liberation versus imperialist control? … And at some point we want to talk about ways we here in this country (the United States) can best support the [Palestinian] movement. (Journal of Palestine Studies, V1 #4, Summer 1972, p 3)
Later in the same discussion, Stork again argues against a political settlement between Israel and the PLO and asks how one could be “negated,” because such a settlement would ruin the chances for creating a revolutionary movement that would destroy Israel:
Maybe it would be easiest to evaluate the present situation in terms of the possibility of a political settlement. Given the movement for and against some sort of political settlement, one question is: how critical is it for Palestinians to oppose it? And the second question is: how can it be done? Is it critical enough that in fact left groups should continue to subordinate themselves to the PLO leadership that met in Cairo earlier this year ? The third kind of question is: what can the Palestinian left do to negate a political settlement – either under the old leadership or independently. (p 19)
So in fact the process of combating any movement towards a political settlement might result, in the initial stage at least, in more splitting within the Palestinian movement itself … (p 25)
In a book review in the same journal, Stork criticized Ibrahim Abu-Lughod, Palestinian editor of The Transformation of Palestine, for trying to put together a scholarly and unbiased collection, arguing in favor of anti-Israel bias:
The editor states that his intention was to make this a collection of scholarly and unbiased essays. The authors, almost all Westerners, are scholars. However, some of them are known for their previous scholarly but anti-Zionist writings. Academic neutrality would seem to me to be a false and status-serving claim. Rather than claim this dubious virtue, the editor might well have done better to explain the bias of his authors as one based on acquaintance with the basic issues as well as with the particular facts. (What Happened to Palestine, Journal of Palestine Studies, V1 #2, Winter 1972; p 105)
In the same review Stork refers again to “Zionist colonization” and falsely charges that:
… the theme running throughout the period of colonization [called] for a transfer of population, and finally the systematic use of force and terror to drive out the majority of the population who refused to “trek voluntarily.”(p 106)
Perhaps the only honest part of this review is the tag line identifying Joe Stork as “an editor of the radically-oriented MERIP Report.” There is something to be said for truth in advertising.
In a classic case of inversion Stork, in another article, paints Jordan as attacking the PLO during the Black September crisis of 1970:
… supplying King Hussein of Jordan during the Black September attack on the Palestinian resistance in 1970. (Merip Reports, September 1980, p 6)
What Stork deceptively omits is that the PLO attacked and tried to overthrow King Hussein, with the help of invading Syrian armored columns.
Twisting the facts in the aid of the most radical Palestinians is obviously a particular habit for Stork.
In the same article Stork refers to the Camp David peace treaty between Israel and Egypt with derisive scare quotes as a ‘ “Peace” Treaty ’(p 9) and denigrates Jordan as a “classic mercenary state” (p 10), since it was apparently, even in 1980, not sufficiently anti-Israel for his tastes.
In an article in 1986 Stork referred to Israel’s alleged “policy of provocation and brutal reprisal against Palestinians and Arabs,” and criticized what he termed “the pernicious influence of the Zionist lobby.” In the same article he returned to the Black September crisis, once again grossly distorting the facts in referring to:
… Israel’s high-profile preparation to intervene in the September 1970 war between the Jordanian army and the Palestinian resistance. (Nuclear Shadow over the Middle East, Middle East Report, November-December 1986; p 7)
Of course, the Jordanian Army would have had no problem defeating the “Palestinian resistance” forces based in Jordan on its own. Stork once again deceptively omits that Syrian armored columns invaded the country in support of the PLO, and threatened to topple King Hussein, thus triggering Israeli mobilization, the resulting Syrian retreat, and finally a Jordanian victory over the PLO, which had to flee to Lebanon.
In another article in 1986 Stork once again demonized Israel, this time by charging that Israeli Prime Minister Begin had referred to Palestinians as “two-legged beasts.” This charge, while often repeated, is false. In a June 8, 1982 statement to the Israeli parliament, Begin did use the term “two-footed animals,” but he was referring not to Palestinians but to terrorists who would murder Israeli schoolchildren. Begin’s statement is available online; here is the relevant passage:
The children of Israel will happily go to school and joyfully return home, just like the children in Washington, in Moscow, and in Peking, in Paris and in Rome, in Oslo, in Stockholm and in Copenhagen. The fate of… Jewish children has been different from all the children of the world throughout the generations. No more. We will defend our children. If the hand of any two-footed animal is raised against them, that hand will be cut off, and our children will grow up in joy in the homes of their parents. (emphasis added)
Similarly, Stork attributed to the former Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban a seemingly imperialist statement, citing one of Eban’s books. However, neither the book, nor the UN speech the relevant chapter in the book was based upon, contains the alleged statement. According to Stork, Israel aimed to establish an imperialist relationship with neighboring Arab states:
But only if the [Arab] boycott were lifted or rendered ineffective would it be possible for Israel to establish a classically imperialist relationship with its Arab neighbors, which Abba Eban envisioned as being “akin to the relationship between the United States and the Latin American continent.” (Zionism, Imperialism and Racism, A.W. Kayyali, ed., p218)
Stork claims in his footnote 25 that the passage in quotes appears on page 111 of Eban’s book Voice of Israel. But checking that page reveals not even a paraphrase of the alleged statement. Further, that chapter of Eban’s book is directly based on a notable speech on a possible Arab-Israeli peace that Eban delivered to the United Nations on December 1, 1952, entitled Blue-Print for Peace. As it happens, the full speech is available online and it is therefore easily searched. Just as with the book, there is not a hint in the speech of the statement Stork falsely attributes to Eban.
Clearly, given the choice between a bogus anti-Israel quote and a fact, Joe Stork will choose the bogus quote.
And finally, in a 1990 article Stork charged that thanks to Israel “Palestine experienced a colonial implanting, demographic as well as economic …” (Middle East Report, March-April 1990, p 5)
Once he was at Human Rights Watch did Stork renounce or at least publicly regret the extremist views he had embraced at MERIP? Did he distance himself from the magazine? The answer is no. In 1996, while already at Human Rights Watch, Stork contributed an article to the Summer 1996 issue of Middle East Report, in which he was identified as:
Joe Stork, former editor of this magazine, is advocacy director at Human Rights Watch/Middle East.
From this survey of Joe Stork’s writings it is clear that he considers Israel to be illegitimate and to have no right to exist, and that he supports its destruction, with violence if necessary.
It is simply not credible that Human Rights Watch was unaware of Joe Stork’s position on Israel. With the exception of his speech in Iraq, Stork’s writings in MERIP, which he helped found, in the Journal of Palestine Studies, and in other radical publications are easily found in any university library or in the excellent New York Public Library (Human Rights Watch is based in New York).
The fact is that Joe Stork’s only qualifications for a job at Human Rights Watch are these writings. It is therefore inescapable that Human Rights Watch hired Stork because of, rather than in spite of, his extreme animus towards Israel. And why did Joe Stork take a job at Human Rights Watch in which he would concentrate largely on Israel? Was it to become an objective analyst while dropping his anti-Israel beliefs and activism, or was he merely taking that activism to a new and even more insidious level?
The bottom line is that Stork clearly denied Israel’s legitimacy, denied its right to exist, and favored and even planned for its destruction. While Human Rights Watch does not explicitly follow this line, its effective denial of Israel’s right to self-defence would lead to exactly the same destruction of Israel long-supported by Stork.